Lessons In Counting and Stretching Rhythm

For drummers, the rudiments are often likened to scales for other instrumentalists, but we have scales too. These “rhythm scales” give us access to new percussive “notes” like the quintuplet. The results we get from playing these new notes on the drums is similar to the contrasting sounds a guitarist, pianist, or saxophonist makes when throwing in a major third where before there were only octaves and fifths. Our first study deals with these new notes. In the second study, continuing the analogy, we’ll gliss between notes, like what can be done on fretless bass or trombone, in an introduction to rhythmic stretching.

Study 1

Here we’ll focus on counting, rhythm scales, and rebound control. It’s a study I developed as a warm-up when I was concerned about tension in my wrists and forearms, but it’s as good a challenge for your brain as for your hands.

Each line is derived from exactly the same rhythm and sticking as measures 1 through 3. The denser measures will be stiff, if not impossible to execute, unless you let the sticks do the work for you. Begin each segment of the measure with a smooth, solid downstroke, and then let your fingers guide each group of subsequent taps. Speed isn’t the goal here. Instead, focus on switching gears for each new rhythm while maintaining the same overall accent structure as in the first line. A metronome will be helpful to keep the phrasing correct.

After you’re comfortable with the exercise, try playing the bass drum along with the accents and the hi-hat on the quarter notes.

Lessons in Counting and Stretching Rhythm 1

Lessons in Counting and Stretching Rhythm 2

Lessons in Counting and Stretching Rhythm 3

Study 2

Now we’ll deal with rhythmic stretching, which is a concept that has been extremely useful to me in practicing, improvising, and composing. In practicing, the exercise forces you to be extremely precise. In improvising and composing, it will open you up to ways to go someplace wildly different while still knowing how to bring it back.

Here we focus on phrasing the five-stroke roll in different ways. The roll starts very tight and near the next quarter note and slowly expands until the five notes evenly occupy the space of two quarter notes. Be mindful of the accents as well as the absence of accents. Although the exercise is written as a very precise, measured rhythmic stretch, think of it as though the two diddles are slowing down independently of the quarter note.

Once you’ve mastered the written exercise, try also exploring all the undefined areas that would occur between each line. Just don’t forget to keep track of the quarter note, and be sure to use your metronome to keep yourself honest.

Lessons in Counting and Stretching Rhythm 4


Colin Woodford is the drummer for Toh Kay and Chord Four, and he has a solo cymbal record due out in February. For more information, go to colinwoodfordmusic.com.